What about the victims?

The past few months have been busy here at Legal Aid Watch – we’ve live-blogged the lawyers’ protests, analysed data in order to give you exclusive reports, and spoken to a range of charities concerned about access to justice.  But there’s still one side to this debate that needs to be heard.

How might victims of crime feel about cuts to legal aid?  What about the families whose relatives have been murdered – do they think the cuts to legal aid are fair?

You might remember Baronness Doreen Lawrence – the mother of murdered teenager, Stephen Lawrence – being at the lawyers’ walk-out.  The family’s lawyer Imran Khan said in a Guardian article that he would have been reluctant to take on the family’s case if today’s legal aid cuts applied.

But for Jean Taylor, founder of Families Fighting for Justice, it’s a different story.

Jean Taylor, Founder of Families Fighting for Justice (credit: FFFJ website)

Jean Taylor, Founder of Families Fighting for Justice (credit: FFFJ website)

We started off by asking her what it’s like to suddenly find yourself in the courts, trying to understand lawyers and the legal system while the suspect sits in the dock.

“It’s like being hit by a bulldozer,” she says.

Listen to our audio interview with FFFJ here:

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Lawyers have been creaming extortionate amounts of money from appeal cases for far too long – Jean Taylor, Founder, Families Fighting for Justice

Jean lost a sister in 1998, a son in 2000 and a daughter in 2004 all to the acts of homicide.

In an audio interview with Legal Aid Watch, Jean says that the legal aid system “has been abused for far too long”.   Speaking out against prisoners who plead guilty, but then go on to appeal the length of their sentence using legal aid, she said that she had “no sympathy” for lawyers and their claims that legal aid cuts would hit their salaries.

Lawyers, she says, have been “creaming extortionate amounts of money” from appeal cases for far too long.

Victims and their families are secondary within the system, Jean says.  If a victim’s family needs access to the court transcripts, they must come up with over £1000 themselves.  A prisoner meanwhile, has all the information he needs thanks to legal aid.  “It’s wrong,” she says.

Moreover, savings made by cuts to legal aid for the perpetrators could be put back into helping the victims of crimes, she said.


Voices of Protest: Best Bits from the Barristers’ Strike

Stirring speeches and even a song from the barristers’ walk-out in Westminster

Poll: Are more legal aid protests a good idea?

Yesterday, the Solicitor’s Journal reported that a new legal pressure group known as the National Justice Committee is organising another round of legal aid protests, expected to take place at the end of February.

The legal profession remains divided as to the merits of protesting legal aid cuts, however.

Would you support another walkout? Take the Legal Aid Watch poll below and let us know.

Students launch group to resist legal aid cuts

Students have founded a new organisation to defend legal aid in the UK

Protesters rally against legal aid cuts during lawyers' strike yesterday, London

Protesters rally against legal aid cuts during lawyers’ strike yesterday, London

Students For Legal Aid announced its arrival via Twitter today, stating that ‘students are planning the next action’ after a historic walkout by lawyers on Monday.

The group is a ‘new network of students committed to fighting for the protection of legal aid’, and on Twitter it has already notched up nearly 400 followers.

It says it will hold talks by lawyers, supporters and those affected by cuts across the country – ‘followed swiftly by further action, of course’.

Bold and radical rhetoric is striking in its Tweets so far:



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Barristers protest against legal aid cuts in strike outside courts across UK

Hundreds of lawyers demonstrate outside courts across Britain to show their opposition to legal aid cutbacks

Criminal barristers protest in a 'strike' against legal aid cuts outside Westminster Magistrate Court, London

Protesters rally against legal aid cuts outside Westminster Magistrate Court, London

Criminal barristers failed to show up in court most major cities today, in a mass walkout unprecedented in the history of the criminal bar.

Several hundred people braved the rain outside Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London for one of the morning’s largest demonstrations.

Criminal Bar Association chair Nigel Lithman said cuts to lawyers’ fees would undermine quality representation, with low incomes putting would-be barristers off the criminal bar.

Speaking to the crowd, he attacked Chris Grayling for painting lawyers as “fat cats”. He accusing the Justice Secretary of “manipulating” figures on pay, to help justify controversial reforms that include planned cuts of £220m.

Lithman, a QC, said: “We cost a pittance and we represent great value for money. We stand on the brink of the collapse of the criminal justice system. After 37 years at the criminal bar I don’t say that lightly.”

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This week in legal aid:


Engraving of a Victorian courtroom scene © Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information (Licensed under Creative Commons)

Engraving of a Victorian courtroom scene © Sheffield Libraries, Archives and Information (Licensed under Creative Commons)

A barrister has vowed that the Bar will fight cuts to justice, in an unusual open letter to the Lord Chancellor that has been doing the rounds on Twitter this week.

A London Underground traffic update board was snapped on November 19 at Westminster Tube station with the following message:

FAO Lord Chancellor,

Your consultation paper is a sham.

Justice is in jeopardy.

The Bar will fight for her.

Not a penny more cuts.


A Barrister

Meanwhile, in the first of two news stories featuring the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), top UK barrister and CBA Chairman has warned that legal aid cuts could lead to murderers and rapists walking free.

“Without wishing to alarm the public, the impact of cuts will mean more cases collapse with murderers, rapists and child-sex offenders walking free.”

In an interview with the Mirror on November 17, Nigel Lithman QC said that “top lawyers would refuse to take on long, serious cases as they would not be paid enough.”

According to the Mirror, he said hourly rates would dip below the minimum wage and commercial barristers would earn in an hour what criminal barristers earn in a ­fortnight.

“The ­criminal justice system is being turned into a ­wasteland.”

What do you think? What constitutes a fair salary for legal aid lawyers? Tweet us your views, take our poll and add your comments below.

Legal Aid Watch has also been keeping a close eye on movements within the Criminal Bar as barristers voted to protest this week:

Poster from the CBA (Credit: Criminal Bar Association)

Poster from the CBA (Credit: Criminal Bar Association)

According to Legal Voice UK, the vote took place at the CBA’s national delegates’ conference in London on November 17.  The government’s proposals for legal aid include a further 17.5% cut to defence barristers’ fees in criminal legal aid cases.

Mark George QC has been quoted as saying:

“I appreciate for some of you, this may sound radical. It is radical. We are in a radical situation. It’s time to fix the bayonets because we are not going to go down without a fight.”

However, CBA Chairman Nigel Lithman QC urged for “caution” as a number of barristers at the conference reportedly asked for a strike date.

William Hogarth, credit: Creative Commons

William Hogarth, credit: Creative Commons

Meanwhile, according to the Law Society Gazette, the Law Society Council has spoken out in defense of the legal aid restructuring.

On a more technological note, a personal injury firm based in Manchester has created a smartphone application that will help with cuts to fees.  The Law Society Gazette reports that Aequitas Legal will attempt to sell the application to other firms in the hope of saving clients money through instant communication.

Similarly, Clifford Chance announced on November 15 that it will take steps to fund free legal advice.  The global firm will give £73,000 to three legal advice centres to help them continue to support vulnerable communities in the face of public funding cuts.

Finally, the Yorkshire Evening Post ran a story on November 14 on the closure of Leeds Law Centre.  Cuts to legal aid have been blamed for what has been described as a “shock move”.

The Harehills and Chapeltown Law Centre shut their doors on November 7 after more than 30 years of legal aid services.